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article imagePlutonium detected in soil around Fukushima nuclear power plant

By Adeline Yuboco     Mar 28, 2011 in World
Tokyo - Soil samples taken from five separate locations around the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) nuclear power plant showed the presence of Plutonium, officials confirmed on Monday.
CNN News reports the element was found in soil samples taken March 21 to 22 from five locations around the plant. The company said it's equivalent to the amounts that fell on Japan following nuclear weapons tests by other countries in past decades.
Three plutonium isotopes—Pu-238, -239 and −240—were found in soil at five different points inside the plant grounds, Tokyo Electric reported. It said that plutonium found in two of the samples could have come out of the reactors that were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northern Japan.
All three isotopes have long half-lives, with plutonium-239 taking 24,000 years to lose half its radioactivity. Plutonium-238 has an 87-year half-life, while plutonium-240's is more than 6,500 years.
TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto told reporters that the levels of plutonium found from the samples are at a level seen in soil in a regular environmental setting. "It is not at a level that's harmful to human health," he assures the public. "Of the samples from five locations, we believe that there is a high possibility that at least two of them are directly linked with the current reactor accident."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations—spokesperson Denis Flory said that the detection of plutonium in soil samples around is something that is to be expected.
"It is a reactor-grade plutonium which is formed into the reactor as far as we can see," he said. "It means that there is degradation of the fuel, which is not news. We have been saying that consistently for so many days."
While external exposure to plutonium poses minimal health risk, the US Environmental Protection Agency did point out that internal exposure is "an extremely serious health hazard."
More about Plutonium, Nuclear crisis, Japan, Nuclear power plant, fukushima
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